Porto Portugal

porto 2211719 1920

Set in the famous Douro port wine region of Portugal, Porto is the country's second largest city and strikingly different to the capital. Whilst Lisbon is elegant and showy, Porto is hard working and down to earth. The best way to approach the city is on the Douro train line or river cruise, as both journeys take you through beautiful scenery and are an end in themselves. Once in Porto, start off with the old town near the river to get a feel for this distinctive city. There is a local saying that "Coimbra studies, Braga plays, Lisbon shows off and Porto works." You will see just how active the town is from the moment you arrive.

In fact, Porto is responsible for giving Portugal its name. The Lusitanian settlement of Cale on one side of the Douro, and another Roman settlement called Portus on the other were known as Portus Cale. The town was capital of the Portucale lands between the Rio Douro and Rio Minho and after the Reconquista the kingdom took on the name of Portugal.

Spanning the Rio Douro (gold river), five spectacular bridges are amongst Porto's best monuments and attest to the city's commercial success. The Ponte Luís I joins the main town to the suburb of Vila Nova de Gaia where the port wine lodges can be found and tourists flock here in droves. Porto makes a good base for discovering the Douro region and also the Minho, as there are good rail and bus connections, and the town itself merits at least two days of discovery.

As a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, European City of Culture in 2001, and host to some important football matches in 2004, Porto has undergone a lot of redevelopment and renovation in the past decade. An underground system has 66 stations and, combined with the bus and train lines, makes travel in the town a breeze. Walking has been made easier by the pedestrianized zones in Dom João 1, Cordoaria and Batalha. Many historic buildings are being done up and so the town is somewhat chaotic with works, but this does not stop the locals from being friendly and having a good time. On the eve of São João, 23 24 June, the whole town is out partying in the streets, hitting each other over the head with joke hammers, especially in the historic Ribeira quarter.

One highlight of Porto is the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, or Fundação de Serralves, designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira, a native of the town. The collection of works from the 1960s onwards is bathed in natural light because the building, of as much interest as the collection, is a beautiful minimalist space that is ideal for displaying artworks. The 1930s Art Deco Casa de Serralves houses temporary exhibitions and the grounds also display sculptures, installations and scarecrows (in the farm).